When the staff at Hitchcock Brewing Company unlocked the front door of their new taproom on South Street in Bernardston on Sunday morning at 11 a.m., customers were already waiting outside.
The first pair to arrive at the bar ordered a crisp Columbus-hopped pale ale called Angry Sparrow and a roasted pumpkin ale called Nice Rumpkin. Both had just hopped off a charter bus from Boston, and had opted to check out the brewery while their companions browsed the Kringle Candle shop next door.
“How long has this place been open?” one asked the bartender, glancing around the bright, high-ceilinged space. Dan Baer, the front of house manager, heard the question as he walked past, on his way to fix a wobbly table leg in the seating area. “It’s opening weekend,” Baer said. “You couldn’t be much earlier.”
The look of pleasant surprise Baer got in response seemed to be a common occurrence during Hitchcock’s two-day grand opening, which coincided with the charter bus-packed Kringle Fall Festival next door.
Some visitors to Hitchcock arrived thanks to word-of-mouth about what has become a well-respected local brewery, now in its third year of business. It seemed at least as many more were poking their heads in simply because of the brewery’s new location: an easy stop along Routes 5 and 10, just a couple of minutes from Interstate 91 and the Vermont border, in a section of Franklin County that until now has seen little presence from craft breweries.
Overall, it has been a busy year for Hitchcock Brewing Company. Before the move, the family-run brewery was based in Whately, where founders Rich and Geneva Pedersen opened a barn brewery and hopyard in the spring of 2016 (the brewery is named for the enormous glacial lake that covered what is now the Connecticut River Valley about 15,000 years ago).
In Whately, the Pedersens could pour samples in their small tasting room and sell beer to go. But as the business grew, the husband and wife team began to plan for an expanded brewery at a new location, hoping to open a larger taproom where they could offer full pours of beer and experiment with their offerings across more taps.
By the beginning of 2019, a move to Bernardston had become more certain. The months between then and now have involved long days of construction at the site — the former Aldo’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership — as well as the hiring of five new staff members.
Dan Baer is one of those staffers. As the front of house manager, he oversees the bar staff but also handles all of the booking, logistics, and tech support for Hitchcock’s indoor live music stage. If his name sounds familiar, it might be because his family created Luthier’s Co-Op, the music shop and live show venue on Cottage Street in Easthampton (in fact, you might be mistaking Dan for his twin brother Steven, who currently owns and runs Luthier’s).
Although Dan Baer occasionally gets to lend a hand in Hitchcock’s brewhouse, his placement up front is intentional. Rich and Geneva hope their new taproom will become a major live music spot in Franklin County. For Baer — who has known the Pedersens for nearly a decade, but whose music network until now has been based largely in Hampshire County — managing Hitchcock’s stage and bars is a chance to connect more directly with musicians local to Bernardston and the surrounding towns.
And the bookings for Hitchcock’s stage are starting to pick up, Baer told me while we sat at the bar on Sunday. The taproom’s opening weekend featured a nice line-up of musical guests — singer-songwriter Mindy Grant, the acoustic trio Eavesdrop, Bernardston local Helen Arbor, and Valley music vet Jerry Brookman’s folk rock act Storm the Ohio. Looking forward, Baer says that the taproom has currently booked out its stage through mid-November.
“The first couple of weeks, booking was a little tricky,” Baer said. “Now, I’m inundated with business cards, and people contacting me to play here. At this point, I’m getting two or three local musicians a day coming in, wanting to play. It’s great to see a lot of local players. It seems this area needed something like this.”
The brewery’s goal, Baer added, is to host live music every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. “On other days,” he said, “we’re just gonna feel it out.”
In the near future, this might include events like open mic and trivia nights. Until then, the main draw is the beer. Customers can order pints at the counter, as well as small glass pours and tasting flights of four beers each.
While Hitchcock’s old tasting room had eight taps, the new taproom has twenty-four. Pedersen and his full-time brewer Chad Champoux don’t have this number of brews available at the moment, but it’s clear there’s room to grow.
Currently, on a 10-barrel brewing system with 50 barrels of fermentation space — all of which came up here directly from the barn in Whately — Hitchcock is offering a golden ale called Crossover made with local Cascade hops from Four Star Farms in nearby Northfield, a Citra-hopped IPA called Single Bottom and its stronger sibling Double Bottom, and a traditional porter called Hurricane.
Also available as of now: a German helles lager, an imperial stout, a raspberry brut tart kettle sour beer made with Lemondrop hops and local raspberries from Nourse Farm in Whately, and a double IPA infused with blood orange, soaked on vanilla beans, and dry-hopped with Hallertau Mandarina Bavaria hops, plus a few more. All beers are also available as 4-packs of cans to go.
Rich Pedersen had been home brewing for 30 years before he founded Hitchcock, and he told me that now, given a retail front, he has more room to play and get creative with his beer recipes, “without having to find 20 bars that will buy the kegs.”
This new location boasts 3,000 square feet of brewhouse space, plus another 3,000 feet of taproom and entertainment space. “We have tons of room for growth, and growth is in the future,” Pedersen said. “I’ll likely add some other tanks in the near future. But we’re still not running what we have to capacity. So, we’re going to grow into it, and see how the crowds are.”
The weekend’s live music, food trucks in the parking lot, and big turnout has been encouraging, he said. “The main thing we were in search of, which we couldn’t do at the other place, was the taproom, with full pours,” he explained, which then allows for an entertainment component, as well.
Pedersen is passionate about music, and describes himself in part as a frustrated musician. “There’s a dearth of real music facilities around here, especially north of Northampton,” he said. “We want to support local music, and we’d love to be a stop-off for people going skiing, or leaf peeping.”
“Our energy is really in growing this taproom and the music business,” he added. “I’m never going to take my eye off the ball with our beer. But I believe so much in Dan, and we want to make a mark in the music scene. When people think of the combination of music and beer, I want them to think of us.”
Local craft beer and music fans will have another chance to welcome Hitchcock to Bernardston this coming three-day holiday weekend, when the brewery once again plans to host some extended hours. Follow the brewery on social media or visit hitchcockbrewing.com for updates.
Hitchcock Brewing Company isn’t the only local brewery undergoing a significant expansion. Ludlow’s Vanished Valley Brewing Company is in the midst of a major build-out at a new site. Details are soon to be disclosed, but so far we know that the new location will feature a full taproom, retail sales, and a food menu. Meanwhile, the Ludlow restaurant Europa, which shared its Center Street address with Vanished Valley for the past couple of years, will close its doors this month, with its final dinner service on Sunday, October 13. Stop in to wish them well — and use up any Europa gift cards — before the end of this coming weekend.
Mystic Brewery in Chelsea is winding down operations. The award-winning brewery was founded in 2011. Since then, Western Mass craft beer fans have been able to find Mystic’s creative beers in distribution throughout the Valley. Sadly, founder Bryan Greenhagen announced on social media on September 27 that over the next few weeks, Mystic “will be celebrating what our brewery has accomplished by releasing some final batches, special beers, and selling off our beer archive as well as selling off all of our barrels to the public.” Mystic has long been brewing at capacity, at just 3,000 barrels per year, with no opportunity to expand in its current space. Last year, the brewery announced a major investment in a new space in Malden, but due to what Boston magazine referred to as “construction hurdles,” this next chapter in Mystic’s story never came to fruition. Pour one out.
Following a successful summer of hosting happy hour events in Steiger Park across from Tower Square in Springfield, White Lion Brewing Company is extending its Wednesday and Friday night beer gardens into the fall. Called Harvest Nights, the pop-up beer garden evenings will run from 5 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday nights through the end of October. In addition, White Lion plans to host a home brew competition on Friday, October 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. Admission to the event will be $5 at the gate.
The Beerhunter appears monthly. Contact Hunter Styles at firstname.lastname@example.org.